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Mizzou President Speaks about Race and Communication

University of Missouri President Michael Middleton came to UCA Oct. 18 to discuss intercultural communications in higher education.

Middleton was named president after former president Tim Wolfe resigned, following scrutiny of his handling of racial tensions on campus.

Students began protesting late last year following alleged incidents of racism on campus.

One of these incidents involved a Facebook post by University of Missouri Student Government President Payton Head, who claimed that people passing by in a pickup truck yelled racial slurs at him.

The situation gained national attention and sparked racial debates throughout the country.

Middleton said the situation reminded him of his time at college as a young adult.

“Someone yelled out of the window of their car ‘Go home n-word,’” Middleton said.

Middleton said he was shocked to hear this on his first day. While he was used to hearing the word in Mississippi, he didn’t expect to hear it on a college campus in Missouri.

Middleton said he was disturbed by how members of the administration handled the situation, and said they were very slow in their response.

“This millennial generation, these students are in need of immediate responses,” Middleton said. “They want it now, it is what they are accustomed to.”

Middleton said there is a process the administration usually goes through when preparing a response to a situation. However, in this kind of situation, he said time is more important.

“You don’t have time to debate the merits in every word in every sentence in everything you say,” Middleton said. “You need to be somewhat familiar with the issues, and you need to be able to respond quickly.”

The key to this, Middleton said, is communication with students.

“That requires you to have direct communication with the students. You need to be aware of the concerns they have,” Middleton said.

He also said administration needs to understand what the terms “macroaggression” and “systematic oppression” mean.

Fredricka Sharkey, director of media relations at UCA, spent the summer of 1993 as a student in Columbia, Missouri. She was part of a program that was designed to bring minorities to graduate school.

“From my experience in 1993, and then coming to where we are now, I was shocked and surprised that Columbia kind of became the flagship of racial controversy at Mizzou, when Mizzou was embracing inclusion in the 90s,” Sharkey said.

photo by Valentin Sawadogo

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